Dear Father Preston,
I have never been inclined to talk to clergyman or mystics or any of that class of men who must find some other name for that which is simply life. But you struck me with the force of your words. Very few of those religious men who delight in discussion with infidels such as myself are willing to admit so openly the role that God plays in their view of things. I have always been frustrated by such sidelong proseltyzing. I have always hated speaking to the smugly smiling sort who will always find reason to argue and refuse to admit that they do not argue from reason but only from the supposed axiomatic existence of God. "God exists. Therefore, I am right. QED." But you, my good father, came right out with the heart of the matter from your first statement and so you compelled me to listen to you and to think long and hard on what you said and finally to do what I always do when someone intrigues me, to write to you.
When you spoke so forcefully, father, I thought I heard in your voice something of myself. And now I understand this impression. You are the only person I have ever met who truly has faith. I do not doubt that you could have converted anyone else with your speech. But I know what faith is because I too possess it and so your faith cannot move me. I have faith in words; I do not seek my salvation in anything but the printed word and because of my own faith I understand the secret of yours. Faith is a thing that you must create. I do not doubt that you know this. Faith is the understanding that life is nothing and that man must make something if he is to live it. This is what my writing is built on. This, too, is the pedestal on which your god stands.
Do you think that I have never known God? I remember him well. I remember how in my childhood I saw him in the silence of the sleeping house and in the stars that mark out the endless depths of the sky. How later on I felt him enclosing the definite shape of my single, separate soul. But I can also remember what is older than he. I can also remember nights before I knew God and how he was never there when I descended into dreams. I can also remember how small I was, how savage and alone with myself and how I never knew fear or trembling. And I know that God was created in me and that I held on to him as long as I did because I have always known the necessity of faith and the passionate desire for immortality.
I do hope we live again, father. I do not fear His judgment. I have not taken this blessing, life, for granted. I have not killed my consciousness nor lied about what I am. Could God know me better than I know myself?
God is unheard whispers and shadows in the night. Listen closer and you will know that someone speaks, turn on the light and you will know that there is something actually there. Well then, I guess God exists; but he is nothing more than what is always there even when I do not think of it.
We understand one another father; we are both idealists. It is my idealism that teaches me my materialism. I love the thought of what is actually there. It is too beautiful to make in man's image, a thing that walks and talks and takes its revenge when it is denied. I think that you are like me. No one could have such faith in a crucified Jew or an angry tyrant (that is to say in someone else). I think your faith is like mine: a belief that what we are can live alongside what we are not. I have never heard you claim that God loves us or is benevolent.
And this is Father Preston's response:
My thoughtful friend,
I have to admit that I have never addressed a parishionerís doubts without recalling my own. And I think each time that doubt is a part of faith, that without it, faith would be unnecessary. Perhaps this is why I can hear the nagging doubts that hover around your sure statements. Pardon me, my son, if I say that you sound like a man trying to convince himself. Let me tell you about the days that I too spent walking blindly in Godís shadow, convinced that I was free of Him. I wanted to be a scientist, once, a biologist to be precise. I shocked my Christian parents with my insistence that life was nothing more then a chance happening, a series of accidents. (I shocked their Protestant souls once more when I chose my current path.) I was in love with evolutionary biology. It embraced the chaos of life as a part of a self-assured, logical system. I gorged myself on a thousand zoological facts, turned every important question into a matter of statistics. I peered with my unbiased, scientific eye into the very heart of creation and I saw that God was simply unnecessary. And so I just shrugged Him off.
And let me tell you this: it is true. God is unnecessary. Iíve never needed Him to help me regulate my life or make decisions any more than Iíve needed the idea of Him to explain existence to me. Iím not the sort to cling to my cross and mutter prayers walking down a dark, street at night. I just donít think He gives a damn. Not in that sense, anyhow. And I donít need the comfort of God to fall asleep at night. God is no comfort. God is terrible. God is the terrible fact of human responsibility for every moment. And I know that He is there. I do not need Him anymore than He needs me. But I cannot open my eyes in the morning without the fact of Him staring into their depths with a force that puts the pale, glow of dawn to shame. And I shudder and drop to my knees in horror and awe and a love that blasts my soul like no love ever has. And I cannot do anything with my life but serve Him. I know that this structure I live and work inside is not God. It is a shambling, incoherent mess of human weakness and incompetence. And I will admit to you who are already a non-believer that I have my reservations about Jesus Christ, himself, as being anything more than a story we tell to remind us of an intangible truth. But there is such beauty here and that is also human. I never cease to be moved by the need to see God, to make Him flesh and blood. It seeps out of some secret, sacred corner of the human mind and creates the mystery of the mass. And when you write, is it not also out of the need to make Him manifest? I do not claim to know everything, my son, but if I have not seen the face of God then I have felt his breath.
Think on this,